A Better Way to Listen When Someone Is Venting

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Listening to your fellow humans can sometimes be so hard to do, and it gets harder when someone veers into venting. How long do you let them go on? What do they even want you to say in return? A recent article in Harvard Business Review has a few suggestions:

When someone is upset or venting, a lot of us “listen” by sharing our own experiences (note: that is actually just talking). Or we try to fix the problem. (Note: that is also talking.) Or, perhaps because we’ve been told, “Don’t try to fix it, just listen!” so many times, we clam up and say nothing, which doesn’t result in the speaker really feeling heard.

[T]he best way to listen when someone is venting is to ask questions … . Help them get all that anger frustration out into the open, where they can start to make sense of it on their own.

Sarah Green, the author of the HBR piece, suggests asking open-ended questions like “What are you most angry about?” and “What are you really worried about?” — and then just let them talk, without interruption. Eventually, they’ll probably talk themselves down, all on their own.